We’re tent campers.
For the last decade, we’ve spent several long weekends each year exploring trails and rivers by day and cuddling up in our green Coleman tent beneath the stars by night. While I relish the chance to unplug in Mother Nature with my family, I’ll admit when nighttime falls, I long for the simple comforts of home, like walls, beds and air-conditioning, much more than my Eagle Scout husband and our crew of Cub Scouts do.
From each passing trip, I’ve carefully curated a list of survival tools to aid my adaptation: Ear plugs. Battery-operated blow up mattresses. Insect repellent anklets and bracelets. USB-powered fans. Wine. I’ve learned to go shower-less for days (unless you count swimming in rivers and lakes), “hold it” when I’m not entirely sure whether the creature rustling on the opposite side of the thin fabric wall is an armadillo or a mountain lion, and brave freezing mornings to start a roaring campfire before our junior camping enthusiasts emerge from a night of peaceful slumber. But, at the end of each and every trip, the trivial tribulations of tent camping pale in comparison to the experiences and memories Mother Nature counters them with.
Over a recent long weekend, we decided to test out something we’ve long been curious (and slightly intimidated) about: RV camping. As first-timers, we embarked on our maiden RV voyage a little unsure of ourselves, but once we logged some miles on the wide open road and the coolness factor of having a “home on wheels” for the weekend set in, nervousness took a back seat to our sense of adventure.
We aren’t ready to fold up our tent forever, but I will say a few days of RV-ing exposed us to a form of camping that is far from “roughing it” and returned us more rested and relaxed than usual. If you’re considering an inaugural RV road trip, here are seven lessons learned from an RV rookie that might just convince you to give one a spin.
1. Renting can be easy and stress-free.
We rented from RVshare, a peer-to-peer RV rental marketplace, which made an intimidating process much easier than I anticipated. With more than 100,000 rentable vehicles available throughout the country, travelers can book a well-cared-for RV and experience the benefits of RV travel without the cost and complexity of owning one. Meanwhile, owners can earn extra income on an asset they aren’t currently using. I would compare the rental experience to Airbnb or HomeAway for RVs — the main differentiating perk being that you can take the home you just rented wherever your next destination happens to be.
2. Driving isn’t as scary as you think.
For me, the most intimidating part about renting an RV was getting behind the wheel, but driving was much easier than I thought. RVs come in all shapes and sizes and RVshare offers a broad inventory ranging from affordable pop-ups to luxury motorhomes. We needed an RV that was spacious enough to sleep our family of five but didn’t want one so big that it felt like we were driving an actual hotel suite down the highway. For our first RV adventure, we selected a Winnebago Minnie Winnie, which offered plenty of sleeping space and all the amenities we needed — a queen-size bed in the rear, an overhead bunk that sleeps two, a pint-sized full kitchen with a U-shaped dinette that converted into a third bed, and a cozy bathroom and shower. After clocking a couple hundred miles in three days, I would compare our Minnie Winnie experience to driving a big truck and riding in a small airplane — items tend to shift while in motion. I’d highly recommend clearing off surfaces, securing and stowing away loose items and latching cabinets before leaving. Upon arriving at your destination, open doors with caution — I made the mistake of swinging open the refrigerator door once we parked at the campsite and decorated the floor with watermelon chunks and Topo Chico.
3. You can explore more in a single trip.
Unlike tent camping, which requires hours to set up and break down camp, an RV allowed us to simply buckle up and roll on to our next adventure. We divided the long weekend between two of our favorite Texas state parks, spending the first part at Inks Lake State Park, enjoying everything from splashing and fishing in the calm, clear water to hiking out to Devil’s Waterhole one morning and spending the afternoon on paddleboats and canoes. We ended our trip at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, watching a sherbet sun rise over the ancient pink dome, chasing our kids to the steep 425-foot summit and soaking in breathtaking views of the green rolling hills spilling out below.
4. RVs are cool — and dry.
On our last day at Enchanted Rock, the temperature climbed into the upper 90s — late May’s foreshadowing the triple digits July and August will bring. We always limit our tent camping trips to early spring and late fall due to the heat, but RV camping affords a year-round vacation option. We were able to truly appreciate the benefits of cooling off in an RV after we returned from our steamy hike and were greeted by air conditioning, refrigerated drinks and a refreshing shower. Our second day at Inks Lake State Park was peppered with several strong thunderstorms, but we were able to wait out the rain while playing cards and board games from the shelter of our RV.
5. Going places is part of the fun.
For little passengers, being buckled in the back seat of a car just doesn’t compare to the thrill of riding in an RV. Ask any one of my three kids their favorite part of the trip and you’ll get one unanimous answer: riding in the RV. Strapped in seat belts surrounding the kitchen table, our kids spent the travel time playing card games, watching movies on the flat screen mounted above the cab and eating lunch on real plates. As parents, we appreciated the lack of whining and “Are we there yet” that usually accompanies our road trips.
6. Pack lighter, pay less.
While pricing varies significantly with peer-to-peer RV rentals, in Texas, costs average $137 per night, according to RVshare. After driving an RV more than 200 miles over three days, our $82 gas bill also came as a pleasant surprise. The ability to bring and cook our own food cost us a fraction of what dining out for three days would have. And compared to the gear we typically tote along for tent camping trips, which barely leaves enough space in the car for our kids, packing for our RV trip proved much lighter. We added on the optional linen and kitchen packages (just $5 per day) so the only items we brought along were food, drinks, clothing and toiletries.
7. Don’t wait to book.
In Texas, May through August are the most popular months of the year to rent an RV. You need to book your RV well in advance, but you should also simultaneously plan out the place (or places) you want to park it, especially during peak travel times like summers, school breaks and holiday weekends. Luckily, RVers have plenty of options to choose from. Texas State Parks offer endless opportunities for unwinding in nature, and you can check availability and reserve sites compatible with your RV needs online at tpwd.texas.gov. For a spot surrounded by family-friendly fun, choose from 85 Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts. You can also search comprehensive databases of campgrounds across the country on Allstays, and Campendium.
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